The streaming industry has broken the ladder, say striking Hollywood writers

LOS ANGELES, May 8 (Reuters) – Ronald D. Moore began his television writing career in 1989 in junior-level work on „Star Trek: The Next Generation.” and „Foreigner.”

A path to success is hard to find in today’s Hollywood, Moore and other writers say, and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has called a strike that began May 2 and has threatened to undermine late-night television by shutting down late-night television. Important fall TV season.

„If I started today, it would be a much tougher business than when I started my career,” Moore, 58, said while picketing outside Comcast Corp’s ( CMCSA.O ) Universal Studios in Burbank, California.

How to train and support a new generation of writers is a key issue in contract negotiations between the WGA, which represents 11,500 film and television writers, and Hollywood’s major studios. Both sides agree that changes brought about by TV’s streaming revolution have reduced opportunities to work on sets and see first-hand how television is made.

A decade ago when broadcast shows dominated television, seasons typically ran for 22 episodes. After a write-up or two, shooting begins and the writing team goes back to the set to help with rewriting and production. Eventually, they could work their way up to hosting their own series.

Netflix Inc ( NFLX.O ) and other streaming services have begun crafting short series in “mini rooms” with fewer writers. For a streaming show, 10 to 12 episodes are written at once, and many writers are fired before shooting even begins.

While reducing their potential wages, the system „restricts the experience levels of those writers,” said John August, a member of the WGA bargaining committee. „They’re not going to learn how to make a show.”

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Collaboration with actors

Writers often rework scripts during production for a variety of reasons. For example, „Boardwalk Empire” writer Christine Chambers said the outdoor scene could be moved inside due to bad weather, requiring changes. Actors’ input leads to revisions.

„The ability to talk to the actors changes the script,” Chambers said. „Suddenly I’m seeing something from (the actor’s) point of view. It’s a collaboration.”

Hollywood studios offered to help early-career writers. According to a source familiar with the negotiations, they suggested that a showrunner identify a promising writer, similar to the Directors Guild of America program. A scholarship will be given to the junior writer.

However, the WGA seeks a requirement for at least six television writers per series, half of whom are employed throughout production. For studios, that requirement is impractical and writers can be paid for months while waiting for filming to begin.

„These proposals require writers for the creative process or not,” said the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the negotiating group on behalf of Walt Disney Co ( DIS.N ), Universal. , Netflix and other studios.

„This is really a hiring quota that doesn’t match the creative nature of our industry,” AMPTP added.

Studios offer salary and residual payments to address complaints that writers are overworked and underpaid, and that compensation is insufficient for many writers in New York and Los Angeles to earn a living wage.

The WGA is asking for bigger pay raises than the studios have proposed and rewards for more experienced writers.

Right now, half of all writers work at the minimum wage level, according to the WGA. „Companies have turned the ladder of economic success for writers into a stool,” said Chris Keyser, co-chair of the WGA Negotiating Committee.

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On the picket line, aspiring writers like 25-year-old Gary Smith have joined WGA members, hoping to help the guild secure a contract with better terms to help them make a living.

„I want to be a part of fighting for a better future,” Smith said while holding a „Writers Guild of America on Strike” sign. „Can’t climb a broken ladder.”

Reported by Lisa Rich; Editing by Mary Milligan and Diane Croft

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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